NON-SMOKERS HARMED BY SECONDHAND SMOKE
COLLEGE STATION Offices, restaurants, government agencies and public buildings all have one thing in common most of them are non-smoking zones.
In fact, in most of the country, smokers must take their habit outside.
Except when they go home. Smokers still light up in their own cars and homes. Unfortunately that's where their habit can harm those they love most their children.
According to information from the Centers for Disease Control, more than half the country's children are exposed to secondhand smoke, most often in their own homes. "Forty-three percent of children, aged 2 months to 11 years, live in homes with at least one smoker," said Courtney Schoessow, Texas Cooperative Extension family and consumer science associate.
Secondhand smoke, she said, "is what is given off by the burning end of a cigarette, pipe or cigar, and the smoke exhaled from the mouths of smokers. This mixture contains more than 4,000 substances, 40 of which are known to cause cancer."
And it that weren't frightening enough, she said, "these 4,000 substances from secondhand smoke can stay in your house for up to two weeks in places such as in the carpet or bedding," even if no other tobacco products are smoked in the meantime.
She cited a 1996 study by the Environmental Protection Agency, that found infants and young children who live with parents who smoke "are at increased risk of lower respiratory tract infections and are more likely to have symptoms of respiratory irritation like coughing, wheezing and excess phlegm."
The EPA also estimates that secondhand smoke causes between 200,000 and 1 million asthmatic children to have more episodes and more severe symptoms each year, she said.
"Stopping cigarette use for most smokers is extremely difficult," Schoessow said. But the problem for children begins when "health care providers are not educating parents on the dangers of secondhand smoke."
Exposure to secondhand smoke "is the third leading cause of preventable disease and premature death in the United States," she said. "It has the same effects and causes the (same) diseases as (it does in) someone who smokes but is more harmful to children."
What can parents do to protect their children from as much secondhand smoke as possible? Begin with these steps:
- Increase ventilation in the areas of the house where people are likely to smoke. Open the windows or use exhaust fans, but don't expect that to completely solve the problem. "Ventilation systems in homes cannot filter and circulate air well enough to eliminate secondhand smoke," Schoessow said. "Poisons from smoke linger in the air up to seven days. People may be exposed even if they are not present while a person is smoking.
- Don't allow people to smoke around infants and small children. Even if it's difficult or embarrassing to tell them not to smoke, the children's health is more important than the inconvenience to the smokers or the difficulty of enforcing the rule.
- Make sure the children's rooms are smoke-free. Leave their bedroom windows open at least one inch and keep their bedding, curtains and carpets cleaned. Keep the door closed but remember, if smoking is allowed in the house, some secondhand smoke will still get into the children's rooms through the air-conditioning system.
Smokers can best improve their families' health quitting, but even while encouraging this, Schoessow and other experts admit that process can take some time.
In the meantime, Schoessow's best advice to smokers is: Put it outside.
Since smokers aren't allowed to indulge in their habit inside most public buildings, going outside to smoke at home shouldn't be that much different for them, she said.
This small inconvenience for the smoker will benefit the whole family. "The greatest benefit of a smoke-free home is that all the health risks associated with secondhand smoke are removed," Schoessow said.
To encourage smokers to quit, Schoessow recommended contacting a county Extension agent for information and brochures (available in English and Spanish) on the program, Put It Outside: Raising Healthy Children.
Other information is available from:
- American Cancer Society, (800) 227-2345 (ask for brochures on quitting tobacco use)
- Texas Department of Health, (800) 345-8647
- Environmental Protection Agency, (800) 490-9198
- Soap and Detergent Association for information on cleaning up after smoking, on the Web at http://www.sdahq.org/health
- Texas Cooperative Extension's Family and Consumer Sciences Department, Family Development and Resource Management, (979) 458-4224.